The in-your-face opposition party spokesman whose trial has knocked a similar ongoing proceeding against a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (Rtd.), off the headlines in recent days, has vowed to defend his name and political interest to the last minute.
Metuh’s case is in itself a chapter in a larger $2.1B arms procurement scandal that was unearthed by President Muhammadu Buhari shortly after he assumed office in May 2015.
Metuh’s arrest in his Abuja residence on January 5th reflected a dramatic collision between the sentiment of the political expediency of the opposition in a democratic system and the relentless scrutiny of all those who have been close to the corridors of power in the last administration by anti-graft officials, emboldened by a President determined to wean the nation from shoddy practices.
Metuh’s trial is centered around alleged illegal diversion of government funds to the tune of N400M. The money is said to be part of a $2.1B fund that was appropriated for the purchase of arms for the nation’s men and women in uniform who are locked in insurgency battle against fighters of the Boko Haram sect.
For the first two days after he was arrested, Metuh refused all attempts by EFCC agents to obtain his statement. He also enjoined his political associates not to defend him in public, and maintained that, as a trained lawyer, he was capable of defending himself against any “malicious” allegation. For almost a weak, he was remanded in custody over what EFCC sources said had a lot to do with his lack of cooperation, which began with his alleged refusal to write admissible statement.
When he eventually made a written statement to authorities, he did so under grotesque circumstances, sources said. The statement he allegedly wrote was later torn apart by no one other than Metuh himself, two-count of EFCC interlocutory charge filed on January 12 read.
Metuh denied downing his statement.
The trial judge, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, tried to make sense of the paper-eating controversy. Abang demanded evidence from the EFCC to nail Metuh on the charges, but the anti-graft agency faltered. This further fueled the conspiracy that Metuh’s trial has a lot to do with his politics than checking corrupt practices in public service.
It is also worth noting that Metuh is not being tried for any official malfeasance, but for being an accessory to misconduct of a senior government official in President Goodluck Jonathan’s admin, Dasuki.
The accusation that Metuh profited immensely from an indiscriminately disbursed largesse coordinated through the Office of the National Security Adviser as campaign intensified for the ill-fated reelection bid of Jonathan has left the PDP inner circles in disarray. Through shabbily-awarded contracts, about 78 companies stand accused of fleecing public coffers by standing as fronts for politicians. Metuh’s firm, Delstra Investment Limited, received N400M, according to exhibits admitted in court on Tuesday.
Earlier on Monday, a witness for the prosecution, Nneka Ararume, an employee of assets management firm ARM, said under the oath that Metuh gave her $2M cash, denominated in $100 bills, to invest with her employer on the politician’s behalf. This damning revelation was corroborated in yet another testimony by Mr. Sie Iyenome, a bureau de change operator who converted the alleged sum to Naira prior to investing.
Surprisingly, Metuh’s counsel, Onyechi Ikpeazu, rather than deny his client’s culpability, requested for time to study the accompanying documents that traced the $2M to his client. This, he said, would enable him to vigorously cross-examine the prosecution witnesses.
The prosecution team maintained it has at least 16 prime witnesses whose backgrounds range from bank executives to portfolio managers. The individuals are said to be armed with paper trails that EFCC sources said they believe carry sufficient excruciating facts to convict Mr. Metuh.
Justice Okon granted Metuh a ₦400M bail with two established individuals as sureties, but his lawyer has urged the court to reconsider what he described as “stringent” bail conditions. Metuh remained in prison until Thursday when he was released after negotiation about his bail terms succeeded.
Even as emerging evidences continued to mount against him, Metuh has held his ground that he is entirely a victim of a government-orchestrated campaign to stifle dissent in public discourse, arguing that he only carried out a legitimate service for the government for which he was appropriately remunerated. On these grounds, he rejected a plea bargain offered him by the prosecutors.
EFCC sources told Western Post Metuh could work free if he bowed to the pressure of investigators and returned a “part payment” (of the alleged ₦400M loot) to government purse.
The Peoples Democratic Party, where Metuh has served as spokesman since 2012, has offered a backhanded support for him on a sole pretext that he is capable of perfecting his stringent bail conditions all by himself. Notwithstanding, the party warned the federal government to desist from repressive assaults against the opposition at the detriment of modern democratic system.
The PDP National Assembly Caucus, however, echoed Metuh’s sentiment and expressed solidarity. The Caucus’ spokesman, Leo Ogor, said the fact that Mr. Jafaru Isa, a political ally of President Buhari who’s also caught in the arms purchase quagmire, was arrested and released within 24 hours is enough pointers to the alleged lopsidedness of the war on graft. They said Metuh is being persecuted because he’d refused to allow Buhari get away with decisions that are detrimental to the critical interest of Nigerians.
Human rights lawyer and consultant criminologist, Victor Okhai, acquiesced.
“The war on graft could be popular for a long time if this administration could ensure a discernible equilibrum in chasing treasury looters.”
Okhai said that the “EFCC erred when the agency detained a prominent opposition politician for several days while searching for crimes to charge him with,” he said. “Metuh has been very critical of Buhari even when most fear him, this is not how to exercise due dilligence which is at the core of every criminal prosecution.”
He added that there are major parts of the trial that leave more questions than answers for the the prosecution team. He alleged that there exist irregularities in the amount Metuh allegedly stole and the process of his trial.
“Honestly, we need to ask the prosecuting lawyers how $2M dollar became a focus in this trial. Because, the last time I checked, that amount is more than ₦400M they arrested and charged him for,” he said. “And if you look at how he was handcuffed, you’d know it’s a deliberate attempt at humiliating him because his offence does not warrant him being handcuffed.”
“Finally, when did Magu become an authority on his own that he’s saying he won’t release Metuh until he confessed?” “Which unbiased government official makes such pronouncement?”
But a presidential source told Western Post on Wednesday evening that the alarms being raised by the PDP and its sympathisers are false. He noted that the Buhari administration has a hands-off-approach policy towards individual cases that are under judicial review.
“The administration that I serve in has nothing to do with Metuh’s trial or that of anyone else,” the source said. “We’ve repeated this over and over again.”
While recrimination over alleged selective prosecution has continued to garner more attention than substance, the ripples that have emanated from the $2.1B arms procurement scandal have reminded Nigerians about the supremacy of institution against the venerability of an individual.
Mr. Alesta Wilcox, a public affairs commentator, said the fact that the PDP is now chanting the same chorus as the opposition parties when it was in carrying out its war against corruption is enough to prioritise institutional framework to tackle corruption.
“I expect praises and knocks for President Buhari’s anti-corruption efforts to dominate the headlines for the years he remained in office,” Wilcox said, “but how far the he was able to strengthen appropriate institutions during his tenure will be the real trophy of the war against graft.”